Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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Describe what is taught about human nature in Heart of Darkness with supporting quotes.

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The book holds a somewhat pessimistic view of human nature. It suggests that, despite surface appearances, human nature remains overwhelmingly subject to instinctual passions, emotions, and appetites – that essentially, it remains primitive. These primitive impulses are fully awakened in people like Kurtz in the midst of Africa, the so-called Dark Continent. In the general discourse of the age in which this novella was written, Africa was viewed very much as a hotbed of primitivism and savagery. However, it is the morally corrupt, materialistic, greedy Europeans who rush to plunder Africa's...

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StephanieRR | Student

In Heart of Darkness, Marlow repeatedly refers to virtue and civilized behavior as a constructed thing, telling his captive audience that they could never truly understand the actions of the people stationed in the Congo because they still lived where no one had to be alone with their own human nature and were instead able to rely on the outward restrictions placed upon that nature by their environment. This attitude is illustrated well in Marlow's address to his crew after telling them about Kurtz's inner darkness.

"You can't understand? How could you- with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbours ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums- how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man's untrammelled feet may take him into by the way of solitude- utter solitude without a policeman- by the way of silence- utter silence , where no warning voice of a kind neighbor can be heard whispering of public opinion. These little things make all the great difference. When they are gone you must fall back on your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness."

It is only because his crew are used to living in a world of enforced order that they could not contemplate going down the same road Kurtz has walked. The butcher must face animals and get blood on his hands, but nothing but conquered remains reach the people. The policeman can be relied upon to fight all of their battles while they stay safe in their homes. There is no call to fend for themselves or rely on their own strengths in a place where there are all of these restrictions on their actions. Without these trappings, they would be alone and forced to resist temptations and ignore the savagery in their natures based on their own merits.